Review: Neil Young's Unearthed 1976 Recording 'Hitchhiker' Is a Lost Treasure

Our take on the music retrieved from the singer-songwriter's vault

Neil Young performs in Amsterdam in 1977. Credit: Sunshine/ZUMA

Hitchhiker marks a pivotal moment in Neil Young's ongoing series of archival releases: Instead of a live classic-songs set, this is a buried-treasure mother lode – 10 newly unearthed studio recordings, cut in one acoustic session, on August 11th, 1976. Young wasn't exactly swept up in the country's bicentennial spirit at the time; now grouped together rather than spread out over later records, the violence-drenched "Powderfinger," "Captain Kennedy" and "Pocahontas" feel like pointed rejoinders to the whitewashed history offered up during America's 200th birthday.

He's in peak lonesome-guy mode on the never-released failed-relationship chronicle "Give Me Strength." Another previously unheard song, "Hawaii," is a spooky mysterious-stranger ballad. The take of the Nixon-sympathizing "Campaigner" here includes a newly relevant verse deleted from the version that appeared on Decade: "The speaker speaks, but the truth still leaks." The major find is the scruffy title song, an unblinking depiction of fame, "neon lights and the endless nights," paranoia and cocaine. Young eventually released it on 2010's Le Noise, bathed in electric guitar and with a verse about being thankful for his kids. There was no one to comfort him in '76: It's a journey through the past, but far darker.